Seasonal affective disorder
Most people who are depressed do not seek psychiatric help and must rely on their family doctor. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for a primary care doctor to recognize the problem if the patient does not bring it up directly.
Patients themselves may be unable to sense or admit their own depression. In one study, although 21% of patients who visited their family doctors were depressed, only 1% described their problem as depression.
Depression can also be confused with other medical illnesses. Weight loss and fatigue, for example, accompany many conditions, some serious, but they can also occur with depression.
Although not all patients who visit their doctor should be screened for depression, individuals who have certain factors might ask their doctor if they should be screened for depression. These include:
A mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, social worker, or psychologist, is the best source for a diagnosis of depression. Such health professionals may administer a screening test such as the Beck Depression Inventory or the Hamilton Rating Scale, both of which consist of about 20 questions that assess the individual for depression. Studies are finding that even computerized phone interviews are valuable as screening tools for depression. However, most mental health professionals generally diagnose depression based on symptoms and other criteria.
Specific ethnic groups may present different symptoms of depression. People from non-Western countries are more apt to report physical symptoms (such as headache, constipation, weakness, or back pain) related to the depression, rather than mood-related symptoms.
Grief. The symptoms of grief (bereavement) and depression have much in common. Grief, however, is considered to be a healthy and important emotional response for dealing with loss, and it generally follows a characteristic path:
If the grief is still severe after this period, however, it may affect a person's health or increase the risk for on-going depression. Some psychiatrists suggest that such a severe persistent grieving state be categorized as a separate psychologic diagnosis, termed complicated grief disorder, which would be related to post-traumatic stress syndrome and require special treatment.
Loneliness. Like grief, loneliness is a condition that may often be mistaken for depression. Of course, every person feels loneliness now and then. Debilitating loneliness, however, is often characterized by misery, a feeling of hollowness, unrealistic expectations for one's life, and feeling removed from others.
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